Brekkies, barbies, mozzies: why do Aussies shorten so many words?

Australians sure do like those brekkiesbarbies and mozzies. We’re not talking about “actual” mozzies here. We’re defo (definitely) talking about words — and Aussies can’t seem to get enough of these shortened words. Some say we’re lazy for clipping them. Others claim it’s just Aussies knocking words down to size — ta, we’ll have a glass of cab sav or savvy b instead of whatever that is in French. Our most beloved shortenings end in -ie/y and -o.

For the full story See what Kate Burridge and Howie Manns have to say here.

A few slang terms are very short-lived; but some slang endures for centuries

In 1819 James Hardy Vaux published ‘A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language’, a compilation of the underworld slang used in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century New South Wales that was brought from Britain and Ireland.

The “vocabulary” appeared in Volume 2 pages 147-227 of Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, Written by himself printed in London by W. Clowes (https://‌‌pt?id=nyp.33433082394838,  see also Simon Barnard’s 2019 book James Hardy Vaux’s 1819 Dictionary of Criminal Slang and Other Impolite Terms as Used by the Convicts of the British Colonies of Australia – with Additional True Stories, Remarkable Facts and Illustrations, Melbourne: Text Publishing.)

Vaux was born in 1782. He was a professional thief and swindler who was transported three times in 1800, 1809, and 1830. His last recorded conviction was two years for indecent assault of an 8-year-old girl in 1839. He probably died in the 1840s.

As you see from the following list, lots of the slang Vaux records (about 20%) was still used in twentieth century Australia and most of it is extant today (even if you don’t move in the wrong circles).

bang up to the mark ‘smart’; bash ‘beat up’; beak ‘magistrate’; haven’t got a bean ‘no money’; beef ‘hue and cry’; blow the gaff ‘tell on, reveal’; bob ‘shilling’; body snatcher; bolt ‘run’; bounce ‘what a bouncer does’; bowled out ‘found out, removed from a position’; bunce ‘money’; cadge; chiv ‘knife’; chum; cleaned out/up ‘money/wealth gone’; clout ‘cloth’; conk ‘nose’; cove ‘person’; crabbed ‘imperfect’; crack a safe; cracksman; crack ‘interchange’; croak ‘die’; dancers ‘stairs’; dicky ‘inferior’; do someone in; do the trick ‘bring off’; dollop; drop ‘give [drop me a quid]; duds ‘apparel’ [originally limited to women]; dues ‘what’s owing’; dummy ‘fool’; earwig ‘listen in’; fancy woman ‘mistress’; fancy man ‘extra marital lover’; fence ‘receiver of stolen goods’; flash ‘smart’, ‘show, reveal’; flash language ‘slang, thieves’ jargon’; floor ‘knock someone down’; fly ‘vigilant, sharp’; frisk ‘search’; game [n.] ‘pursuit’; gammon ‘flattery, bullshit’; be good for something; grab; grub ‘food’; his nabs  ‘his nibs’; hoist ‘robbery’; jemmy ‘crowbar’; job ‘undertaking’; kid ‘child’; kirk ‘church’; knap ‘steal, get’; lag ‘convict’; lamps ‘eyes’; lark ‘game, something done for fun, gain’; leary ‘suspicious’; bring to light ‘reveal’; lumbered ‘incommoded’; lush ‘drunk’; mitts ‘gloves, hands’; mug ‘face’; nail a person; nancy ‘arse’; nancy boy; needle a person; nix; nose ‘snout, grass’; out and out ‘completely’; pal ‘friend’; palm ‘bribe’, ‘palm’; patter ‘talk’; pick up someone; pigs ‘police’; pinch ‘steal’; pins ‘legs’; jug, clink ‘prison’; plummy ‘good’; post a bet ‘put up a bet’; prime ‘good, plummy’; pull ‘influence’; pull up ‘stop’; put up an idea ‘float an idea’; queer ‘counterfeit’; queer it ‘spoil it’; quid ‘pound, guinea’; racket ‘scheme’; rattler ‘coach’; rum ‘good’; school [of gamblers, etc.]; scout ‘watchman’; seedy ‘poor, shabby’; sell ‘betray’; shake ‘steal from’; sharp ‘cheat’; on the sly ‘secretively’; snitch ‘betray’; snooze; sound a person ‘try to get info from’; spin a yarn; square ‘upright, honest’; stake ‘sum of money’; stash ‘end, put way’; sticks ‘furniture’; sting ‘defraud, rob’; stink ‘uproar, outrage’; stow ‘finish, stash’; swag ‘bundle, booty’; swell ‘gentleman’; tanner ‘sixpence’; toddle ‘walk slowly, be doddery’; toddler ‘child’; togs ‘clothes’; togged out to the nines ‘well-dressed’; tools [for housebreaking, etc.]’; tooled up; topped ‘hanged’; traps ‘police’; do the trick ‘accomplish’; try it on; turn up a trump ‘turn out well’; wack [n.] ‘share’; wanted [for a crime]; weed ‘tobacco’; yarn ‘narrate’.

OK, currency is now decimal, there are more trendy slang terms for friends, and weed is more frequently used for dope than tobacco, but a surprising quantity of eighteenth-nineteenth century flash language is still in common use today. Vaux’s “vocabulary” is testament to the longevity of slang.

Keith Allan

Amanda Laugesen on Boganism

Amanda Laugesen, Editor-in-Chief of The Australian National Dictionary asks what the word ‘bogan’ says about Australian culture and society. See the November 2022 issue of ‘Australian Book Review’. The podcast can be heard via this link.

Digging deep on Aussie nongs and drongos

Kate Burridge writes on the exuberance of expressions people gave us for stupidity. Favourites ranged from mild drongo (the clear winner in our survey with 886 mentions) to the more potent dickhead (third in the list, but a long way behind drongo with 120 mentions). Quite high on this list was also nong (and its relative ning-nong). Nong has been a favourite in this country for some time – since at least the turn of the 20th century, in fact, Australians have been referring to each other as colossal nongs. Nong has always been an effective insult to question someone’s intelligence or competence, but like other insults, it continues to be an important signal of mateship – and true affection. There is more to read at

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Discourse markers: When saying ‘a bit’ can mean a lot

Isabelle Burke writes “a bit” is a discourse marker – one of those hard-working little linguistic scraps like “you know” or “I mean”, which help manage the flow of discourse, perhaps through interpersonal work, or signposting the structure of a conversation. There’s “a little bit of a car accident”, “a bit of a headache”, “a bit of a blood clot”, and even a plane crash described as “a bit of a frightening experience”. Hedges such as “a bit” are an integral part of our everyday conversational routines surrounding ill health or misfortune. But funnily enough, Australian speakers do not only mitigate overtly negative statements, but even seemingly positive ones. For instance, our data reveals examples such as calling someone “a bit of a local hero”, and plenty of instances of “a bit of a legend”. Tall poppy syndrome means the issuing of compliments can be a fraught business – in fact, in need of mitigation! For more, see

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A fried potato by any other name would taste as savoury

American Australian Howard Manns went to the shop to buy what Americans call “tater tots” and discovered they were what Coles calls “potato royals”. A more common word in Australia is “potato gem”. In Victoria they are “potato cakes”, in NSW “potato scallops”, and someone from South Australian thinks these are called “potato fritters”. For discussion of this and more see

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‘No worries’ looks to be a simple little expression – but it’s anything but

Kate Burridge points out that when Ozzies love an expression, they play with it. No worries has generated numerous remodelled versions – notably, gloriously truncated nurries, and the more complex no wuckers/no wucks, two truncated spoonerised versions (from no fucking worries -> no wucking furries -> no wuckers/no wucks). No wuckers also shows the -ers ending, a double diminutive sometimes added to adjectives (like chockers, ‘chock-a-block’; preggers, ‘pregnant’), and also to nicknames (one of my school nicknames, Budge, was occasionally transformed – I like to think, affectionately – to Budgers). And there is more to entertain you at

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